Wow! Said she who always endeavors to be optimistic. Are we in trouble! First and foremost, of course, is this pandemic hanging over and among us. But the November election isn’t far off, and with so much uncertainty about how wide the pandemic will spread and how long it will last, the concept of voting by mail is an obvious imperative.
Yet this President, who now insists his powers are absolute, is claiming that vote-by-mail is a giant fraud that shouldn’t be allowed. Why? If we allow the Democrats to include funding in the next coronavirus relief package to expand voting opportunities and allow more widespread vote-by-mail in response to the pandemic, he said, “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
“The push to limit voting options is in keeping with Republicans’ decades-running campaign to impose restrictions that disproportionately affect people of color, the poor, and younger voters, under the banner of combating voter fraud, which is exceedingly rare.”
In another article, the Times observed:
“Studies have shown that all forms of voting fraud are extremely rare in the United States. A national study in 2016 found few credible allegations of fraudulent voting. A panel that Mr. Trump charged with investigating election corruption found no real evidence of fraud before he disbanded it in 2018. “
Indeed, Charles Stewart III of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a political science professor who studies “the machinations of voting” observed:
“What we know can be boiled down to this: Voting fraud in the United States is rare, less rare is fraud using mail ballots.”
In the face of the lack of evidence, the Republicans persist. The reason is fear of loss of power. As I’ll note below, their fears aren’t even justified.
But the operative concept is–or should be–quite simple: One Person, One Vote. You either believe that as many people should vote as possible, or you can’t claim to be representatives of our small d democratic republic. This is a huge issue.
So it’s clear to me that in response, we need a huge Democratic turnout reaching all levels of government in November—not just to save our democracy—but also, because of the mishandling of the pandemic by Trump and some Republican governors, to save our lives.
And that means every vote must be allowed to be cast and counted—no easy task. There are lots of impediments, both built-in (eg, the Electoral College), and human made (eg, gerrymandering, racial targeting, Russian interference). See this New York Times article about the complexities involved.
I think it behooves us all—as concerned citizens also acting in enlightened self-interest—to demand that our electoral mechanisms are as geared up as possible to ensure the election results echo the voters’ intent.
Here’s Some Good News In That Regard
—Senators Amy Klobuchar and Ron Wyden have introduced a vote-by-mail bill that they hope to get into the next Coronavirus relief package. It’s called The Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act and “would expand early in-person voting and no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail to all states and would reimburse states for additional costs in administering elections during the coronavirus pandemic.”
In an Op-Ed in The New York Times, Senator Klobuchar writes:
“And if you want to know what it’s like to vote in a healthy, safe and secure way—from the comfort of your own home—just ask President Trump. He’s been doing it for years.”
—Michelle Obama’s nonpartisan voting group, When We All Vote, has announced its support for expanding vote-by-mail, online voter registration, and early voting. Calling those efforts “critical steps for this moment,” she stated:
“There is nothing partisan about striving to live up to the promise of our country: making the democracy we all cherish more accessible, and protecting our neighbors, friends and loved ones as they participate in this cornerstone of American life.”
—The National Task Force on Election Crises, a “diverse, cross-partisan group of more than 40 experts in election law, election administration, national security, cybersecurity, voting rights, civil rights, technology, public health, and emergency response,” has set forth goals that include expanding no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail; maximizing early voting days and hours; increasing the number of polling places and other voting options; and proactive, transparent communication with voters.”
This group was founded to ensure that our elections are safe from interference by the Russians and others. It has now expanded its efforts in view of COVID-19. I listened to a very interesting podcast by several of its members on Talking Feds, chaired by law professor and political commenter Harry Litman, in which one speaker observed that Secretaries of State in states throughout the country are gearing up for this massive task.
—The brave Wisconsin voters have laser-focused our attention on the threat to our democracy.
I question whether anyone with an ounce of decency, regardless of party, could have remained unmoved by the sight of those loyal Americans standing on long lines to exercise their precious right to vote in the midst of this pandemic, forced to choose between voting and their health—and possibly lives—by outrageous and purely partisan decisions on the state and national levels by both legislators and the Courts, with the President as cheerleader.
To recap briefly:
- On April 6, Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, sought to have the primary moved to June.
- The Republican-dominated state legislature challenged his decision in the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which struck down the Governor’s action.
- The US Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling reached remotely from their own safe spots, voted to reverse a lower court’s decision to extend the deadline for receipt of absentee ballots by just six days to ensure people could vote safely.
The Republican state legislature wanted to keep the vote low, believing it would help them reelect a conservative state court judge. President Trump agreed. He lobbied hard for the guy and against vote-by-mail, saying it “doesn’t work out well for Republicans.”
It turned out that was the case in Wisconsin this year. Though both Democrats and Republicans expected a low turnout, especially in Democratic stronghold Milwaukee, where there were only 5 polling places open instead of the usual 18, Jill Karofsky, the liberal challenger, defeated Justice Daniel Kelly, the Trump-endorsed incumbent, by more than 160,000 votes. (Joe Biden also decisively defeated Bernie Sanders in what might have been bigger news under other circumstances.)
This Should Not Be a Partisan Issue
But despite President Trump’s claims—and his unjustified cries of fraud (which, as noted previously, study after study have shown is practically non-existent at this point—oh, wait, there was that North Carolina election fraud case by a Republican operative in 2019)—vote-by-mail doesn’t automatically benefit Democrats.
In fact, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—all of which Trump won in 2016—already allow their voters to vote by mail for any reason.
A study published April 14, 2020, by the Democracy and Polarization Lab at Stanford University examined data from 1996-2018 and found no evidence that the roll-out of vote-by-mail in California, Utah, and Washington helped either party.
Vote-by-mail is already the primary method of voting in five states: Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Hawaii, and Utah. Former Governor and current Senate candidate John Hickenlooper of Colorado said they’ve seen a handful of fraudulent attempts in the millions of votes cast since its inception.
So facilitating vote-by-mail should be a non-partisan issue, but it isn’t. And since some believe that the number of people voting by mail may double in 2020 and account for one half the voting population, the systems state-by-state are really going to need help to protect the integrity of the electoral process. And the Post Office must be ready.
There Are So Many Facets to What Must Be Done.
One Atlantic writer, Marc Elias, noted:
“Experience and past election results show that in order to prevent vote by mail from inadvertently disenfranchising voters, states must adopt four key safeguards:
(1) Postage must be free or prepaid by the government.
(2) Ballots postmarked on or before Election Day must count.
(3) Signature-matching laws need to be reformed to protect voters.
(4) Community organizations must be permitted to help collect and deliver voted, sealed ballots.
“We know that lack of pre-paid postage is an impediment to voting for many lower-income and young voters, and experts have found that requiring voters to have mail ballots received by Election Day, rather than simply post-marked by Election Day, has a disproportionate impact on minority voters. In 2016, a determination that a voter’s vote-by-mail signature failed to match the signature on file was the most common reason for rejecting a ballot. Finally, experience shows that laws that prevent community organizations from assisting voters with the collection and delivery of voted and sealed mail ballots disadvantage minority voters.”
Regardless of Party, We Should Want to Maximize American Voter Participation
Elias adds that because some voters, especially minority voters, strongly prefer to vote in person, they must be able to do so safely, with sufficient staffing by state agencies assisted by students. He foresees government workers being given overtime pay to do this, and high school and college kids receiving both payment and credit. In part, this effort will make up for the many elderly people who formed the bulwark of poll workers in the past.
Expanded curbside voting—in which voters drive up, get their ballot, and return it—without having to leave their cars, is now available in a number of states for disabled or elderly people. Elias and others recommend expanding it for everyone.
We have seen early voting being cut back in some states in an effort to disenfranchise voters. Elias recommends expanding it to include weekends, thereby reducing long lines and enabling those who want to vote in person but can’t get to the polls on Election Day to cast their ballots.
He recommends that “vote anywhere rules” be adopted by all states, so that a voter who appears at the wrong polling place may vote for the offices for which she or he would be eligible. This move, which some states already allow, would negate the need for provisional ballots that often aren’t counted.
And here’s a very interesting idea: states should create systems that enable a voter to reserve an off-peak hours time slot when they can vote, which would also reduce lines.
“The goal should be to avoid letting the rules dictate who wins based on whose voters can participate. Only by taking these steps can we be assured that the rules of the election won’t unfairly tilt the playing field.”
What You and I Can Do
In a recent visit to Twitter, where I am primarily a reader/lurker, I came across this tweet from a woman named Jo:
“Wisconsin is incredibly inspiring but no one should have to risk sickness or worse to vote. Be as patriotic as these fine folks and spend time today writing, tweeting, and calling your elected officials to support vote by mail and tell 12 of your nearest and dearest to do the same.”
I was so taken by the import of that simple tweet that I responded:
A sound and constructive plan that I should have thought of but didn’t. Thank you!
I have followed that advice, leaving messages with my senators and representative encouraging them to ensure that Congress allots the money needed by the states and the Post Office to make vote-by-mail viable in all 50 states by November. The Post Office support is an essential element. Apparently, President Trump has added the US Postal Service to his hit list.
It’s also crucial that Congress fund the other voting initiatives discussed above to secure safe in-person voting.
As I’m contacting my nearest and dearest, I’m adding you, dear readers, to my list. If at least twelve of you will deliver this message to your legislators—and, in turn, encourage twelve of your nearest/dearest to do the same—perhaps we can really make an impact.
This is the most important election of our lifetimes. We’ve got a lot of hurdles ahead of us. Now’s the time to make our voices heard.
Are you with me?